Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Dynamic Duos (but no Caped Crusaders!)

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish asks us to list our top ten “dynamic duos”, being those best friends, power couples or partnerships that we really love.

It’s not even a month after Valentine’s Day where we all listed our top ten love stories or pairs of lovers so I’m not going to include romantic relationships in my list.  Turning to non-romantic pairings, there are some classic examples in literature – Frodo and Sam, Tom Sawyer and Huckeberry Finn, Phineas Fogg and Passepartout, Noddy and Big Ears, Jeeves and Wooster, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and Don Camillo and Peppone to name but a few.  Indeed, with a little thought, it wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a top twenty list.

There is one type of book though that seems particularly fond of the dynamic duo concept.  I am, of course, talking about detective fiction and, more specifically, vintage crime fiction.  There seems to be something about this genre that lends itself to the use by the main character of a sidekick or partner whether good cop – bad cop, genius detective – dense sidekick or upper-class sleuth – helpful servant to do the dirty work.  So, without more ado, here are my top ten detective fiction duos:

1.         Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.  It would have just been wrong not to put these two top of the list.  From the moment they meet in A Study in Scarlet they become inseparable.  As well as being the foil by which Holmes can display his genius – “Elementary, my dear Watson!” – the good doctor is also Holmes’ Boswell, faithful chronicler of his cases.  All but four of the 56 short stories and 4 novels that feature Sherlock are narrated by his faithful friend.  Despite Holmes' cool persona, ther is real affection between the two.

2.         Hercule Poirot and Hastings.  Mais bien sûr, mes amis!  There are real similarities in the Poirot-Hastings dynamic to the Holmes-Watson relationship with Hastings acting as sounding board, dull-witted assistant and chronicler.  Hastings is, however, despite being Poirot’s best friend, less important to Poirot overall, appearing in only 8 of the 35 Poirot novels (although in most of the short stories) and not featuring in either of Christie’s best-known Poirot stories, Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express.

3.         Commissario Brunetti and Vianello.  As they have progressed, Donna Leon’s Venice-set Brunetti novels have given more and more importance to his relationship with his wife, Paola and he also has a rather ambiguous relationship (non-sexual I hasten to add) with Signora Elettra, his superior’s secretary.  As I am eschewing the romantic or quasi-romantic, however, Brunetti’s partnership with his sergeant (and later, inspector) Vianello deserves to be included here.  They have a comfortingly solid friendship, with shared ideals and a mutual distrust of Vice-Questore Patta, their boss.

4.         Dalziel and Pascoe.  The deep friendship that exists between the uncouth and rough Detective Superintendant Dalziel and the university-educated Detective Sergeant Pascoe is an important feature of Reginald Hill’s novels despite Dalziel’s constant efforts to be crusty and curmudgeonly towards Pascoe.

5.         Albert Campion and Magersfontein Lugg.  Margery Allingham originally created Campion as a parody of Lord Peter Wimsey but he developed an existence of his own as her novels grew in popularity.  Campion is a scion of an English aristocratic family who has adopted his name as a pseudonym.  He is aided in his adventures by his faithful manservant, Lugg, an ex-burglar who gave up his nefarious activities to work for Campion and who takes care of any dirty business.

6.         Charlie Mortdecai and Jock Strapp.  I bet you’ve not come across these two before but they are fantastic.  Created by Kyril Bonfiglioli whose style and novel structure has been compared to Wodehouse, Charlie Mortdecai is an art dealer who has been described as an amoral Bertie Wooster with occasional psychopathic tendencies.  He tries to detect crimes but often ends up being the detectee.  His faithful manservant, Jock Strapp, is a drunken but loyal thug, described by the author as “a sort of anti-Jeeves”.  The four Mortdecai novels are great fun but not for the easily offended.

7.         Dave Robicheaux and Cletus Purcell.  Dave is a recovering alcoholic detective who is subject to bouts of depression.  Cletus is a violent, alcoholic bail-bondsman.  They are best buddies, naturally.  James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux novels deal with the seedy underbelly of Louisiana and are gritty.  They are characterised by their moral ambiguity and their fabulous sense of place.  Forget great crime writing, James Lee Burke is simply a wonderful writer full stop.

8.         Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins and Raymond “Mouse” Alexander.  These two have been lifelong friends since their childhood in Texas.  Easy is a black PI in Los Angeles at the dawn of the civil rights era.  He is idealistic (and a bit of a drunk) and a fighter for social justice.  Mouse is amoral and a near-psychopath who Easy turns to when he needs muscle.  One of his best lines: “If you didn’t want me to kill him, why did you leave me alone with him?”  Great stuff.  Incidentally, Mouse and Sherlock Holmes share the distinction of having survived being killed off by their creators and making a return from the dead in later books.

9.         Father Brown and Hercule Flambeau.  One of the more complex friendships in detective fiction, Father Brown is the dumpy Catholic priest who catches criminals by using intuitive methods, focussing on philosophical ideas.  He is a kind of mirror image of Holmes in this respect.  Flambeau begins his association with Father Brown as his chief adversary, a master criminal.  Father Brown eventually reforms him and he becomes his friend and colleague.  G.K. Chesteron’s creation seems to be a bit of a Marmite experience – you either love him or hate him.  Me? I have loved Father Brown since I first read him at school.  And you certainly don’t have to be a Catholic or even religious to do so.

10.       Thomson and Thompson.  I haven’t run out of ideas, I just love Hergé’s wonderfully incompetent detectives.  Despite pursuing either Tintin or another completely innocent suspect, failing ever to catch the real crook and getting into improbable scrapes, Thomson and Thompson keep being entrusted with secret missions, thus ensuring they will come across Tintin again.  Despite looking identical, Thomson and Thompson are not related. They act as super sub-plots to Tintin’s adventures and deserve a place here for having inspired the name of one of the best British 1980s pop bands, the Thompson Twins, and for having made a crossover appearance in an Asterix story.  Legends!

I would also like to give honourable mentions to Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Hawk and Fisher and Tommy and Tuppence, who would have made the cut had it not been for their romantic entanglements and also to Thursday Next and Pickwick the dodo, who narrowly missed out to Thomson and Thompson because I just couldn’t bring myself to include a dodo in my list.


Two Bibliomaniacs said...

Great picks. I recently read Murder on the Orient Express and loved Hercule Poirot!

Bibliophile said...

That's a lovely list. Our lists have Holmes and Watson in common, but Father Brown & Flambeau and Dalziel & Pascoe would have made my list if I had decided to only include detective teams.

Birdie said...

Poirot and Hastings are on my list too! They are definitely made of win!

Sharon said...

Great list! As you saw, Dave and Clete are one of my favorite pairs. I recently read my first Lord Peter Wimsey nove and enjoyed it. I'll have to look this other one up, thanks!

LBC said...

I don't know anything about most of your pairs, except Watson and Holmes.

Here is mine

Falaise said...

Two Bibliophiles - I love Murder on the Orient Express too.

Bibliophile - I think the Father Brown stories are massively underrated these days.

Birdie - You really can't go wrong with Poirot.

Sharon - Thanks for the comment.

LBC - I will check your list out.

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